Kataragama is one of the three most venerated religious sites in Sri Lanka (along with Adam's Peak and the Temple of the Tooth at Kandy), held sacred by Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims alike — even Christians sometimes visit in search of divine assistance. The most important of the town's various shrines is dedicated to the god Kataragama. a Buddhist-cum-Hindu deity (see box below for more on his confused lineage) who is believed to reside here. The origins of this shrine are obscure. One theory has it that King Dutugemunu built a shrine to Kataragama here in the second century BC, while the adjacent Buddhist dagoba allegedly dates back to the first century BC.

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